Ordinary Joinery not Cabinet - making - Joiners' Furniture- Example of different forms of Tools - Subdivision of Labour in Furniture-making Special Work of the Cabinet-maker - Subdivision of Cabinet-making into Branches - Causes of bad Furniture being made - Advantages of understanding general Cabinet Work - Amateurs' Work - Skill only to be gained by Practice - Necessity for Observing - Cabinet-making not frivolous Work - Thought required as much as Strength.
As there are apparently many popular misconceptions on the subject, it may be well at the beginning to make some attempt to explain the scope of the cabinet-maker's work, and show wherein it is distinct and separate from kindred or allied crafts. In ordinary conventional language, the cabinet-maker is one who either sells or makes furniture of all kinds, or perhaps does both. The present concern, however, is not with him as a dealer, but as an artisan,a craftsman who makes ordinary wooden domestic furniture. This clears the way somewhat, and it will be well to consider what, in the capacity of cabinet-maker, one is expected to do, though it must be admitted it is not altogether an easy matter to define the limits of the craft without occupying an undue amount of space. It is, however, necessary that the worker should have a tolerably clear conception of what is expected of him. Broadly speaking, the cabinet-maker - only as a craftsman, mind - has nothing to do with upholstery, nor is he the same individual as the polisher who finishes the work. The cabinet-maker confines his attention to the woodwork of furniture. He fashions and forms the wood, fastening it together, but has little or nothing to do with other materials, except so far as they are necessary for construction. He is, therefore, a joiner; but to confound joinery or carpentry with cabinet-making is altogether a mistake, though one commonly made. Because a man is a cabinet - maker, and consequently works with wood, he is supposed to be competent to do anything required in the joinery way. From his familiarity with the material chiefly used he may have more aptitude than one quite unaccustomed to wood or wood-working tools in carpentering generally, but neither a carpenter nor a cabinet-maker is so much at home in the work of the other as in his own special line. The joiner is principally concerned with large work and with comparatively soft woods, while the cabinet-maker is, from the nature of the articles he makes, occupied principally with small constructions in the choicer and harder woods. Without at all seeking to decry the skill of the joiner, it may be admitted that cabinet-making is finer work - fine joinery in fac - and nothing else. I am quite aware that many joiners can, and do, make furniture, and there are not wanting those who consider that articles of furniture are of better quality when made by the joiner or carpenter. Joiners' furniture is, however, lacking in the finish which is imparted to it by a good cabinet - maker, unless, indeed, the joiner has had some training in the special work of the latter, or, in other words, has learned cabinet - making. As for the quality, by which is meant the superiority in solidity and general construction, it amounts to little more than crudeness of work and methods. Those who think otherwise have generally little or no practical knowledge of the subject either from an artisan or a commercial point of view, but are led away by entirely false notions of so-called art. This, however, is a subject which I shall have occasion to refer to in a subsequent chapter, so that for the present it may be dismissed. I think there can be little doubt that at one time the cabinet-maker and the joiner were one and the same person, the two crafts having drifted apart owing to the special features of each having become developed, partly from ordinary conditions of business, and partly from force of individual circumstances or preference, for it is no uncommon thing to find that a joiner has become exclusively a cabinet-maker, and vice versa. This is not surprising, for the tools, with certain modifications in some cases, are identical, and there is no reason why one who can make, say, a door of a room, should not be able to make a similar part for a bookcase, sideboard, or anything else. If accustomed to working in pine he might, naturally would, feel somewhat awkward at first with a piece of fine, hard, figury ' Spanish,' but that would soon be overcome. Then there are the various little details in connexion with cabinet-making which are different from the methods practised in joinery. For instance, our friend the joiner, working, as has been said, principally in pine, would find that the fillister is not so suitable as the rabbet-plane for making a rabbet in hard-wood furniture, a fact which the trained cabinet-maker is aware of, and so very probably does not even possess a fillister, the use of which would be somewhat inconvenient to him on that account even in 'deal' work. If, therefore, the novice does not find mentioned in the following pages some tool which he is aware of, and perhaps has in a more or less hazy way regarded as indispensable, he may understand that though suitable for joinery, it is not generally used by the cabinet-maker, or, if the expression be preferred, by the joiner who exclusively devotes his attention to the construction of furniture. The same may be said about joints, for though there are many of these which are of general adoption, some, such as the scarf, are needless in cabinet-making, while others little used in joinery or building construction are of frequent application in it. On such minor details the distinction between cabinet-making and joinery chiefly consists, so that a good joiner has little difficulty in becoming equally facile as a cabinet-maker, while the latter finds the transition equally easy.
So far the cabinet-making craft has been regarded in its widest application, for in practice it is considerably more restricted than anything which has been said would imply. Upholstery and polishing, it has been already stated, are distinct from cabinet-making, but the fact that this is again subdivided must not be lost sight of. The cabinet-maker of modern times may be a very competent individual - or, according to some, an incompetent one- but he does not profess to be either a turner, an inlayer or marquetry cutter, a fretsawyer, or a carver. What, then, does he do? some may be inclined to ask. Well, it may be answered for the enlightenment of such people, he makes up the things, and he has plenty to occupy him in so doing. Suppose we take, by way of illustration, a sideboard or a cabinet in which there are turned columns, carved parts, marquetry panels, and one or two bits of fretwork. In addition to the construction of the article, the cabinet-maker would get out the square pieces to be turned, the pieces to be carved, lay the marquetry veneers on the panels, and prepare the pieces for the frets. To a certain extent the turner, the carver, the fretsawyer, and the marquetry cutter are subsidiary to him: their work is decorative, his constructive. The art of the cabinet - maker does not consist in decorating his work, but in making it, putting the parts together properly, substantially, and with neatness. It is, therefore, quite possible for one to excel as a cabinet - maker without having any practical skill in the more purely decorative branches of woodwork. It is quite true, however, that a piece of furniture should be decorative and ornamental in itself, but it by no means follows that carving and other adornments of a like kind are essential to beauty. Suitability to its intended purpose and accurate workmanship are of far more importance, and - though perhaps rather prematurely- I cannot refrain from impressing on the novice that plainness and ugliness are not synonymous, for it will at any rate show him that to be a really efficient cabinet-maker he need not be an ' Admirable Crichton' in woodwork. Here and there one may meet with a man who can do all that is required in making any piece of furniture, but he is the exception proving the rule. This is, that each devotes himself to a special branch, with the result that he becomes expert in it, instead of being merely fairly good all round.